The Rockefellers’ art and philanthropy: A family legacy

A panel discussion exploring the family’s long history of collecting and giving, and how Asia is developing its own philanthropic identity

Ahead of Christie’s auction of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, to be offered in New York in Spring 2018, a selection of highlights from the sale went on view at Christie’s in Hong Kong in November 2017. In conjunction with the tour, which included works by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin and Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, among others, a four-person panel explored the Rockefeller family’s long history of collecting and giving in Asia, and how Asian art collectors may begin to develop their own philanthropic identities.

‘The Rockefeller family’s philanthropy in Asia is the longest of any philanthropy for the family outside of the United States,’ notes Jonathan Rendell, Deputy Chairman and Senior Advisor of Christie’s Americas. For this reason, explains Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie’s Americas, it was appropriate that the tour of property to be offered in the Rockefeller sales begin in Hong Kong, ‘because of the deep family connection to Asia both in terms of its business and its culture.’ Moreover, Porter continues, ‘about one third of [Christie’s] buyers are now from Asia. We are very conscious of bringing this collecting community the best of what we have. So it seemed right to launch the greatest collection of works of art that Christie’s has ever handled at the centre of the Asian art market.’

Says Rockefeller family historian Peter Johnson, the family’s long tradition of giving in Asia helped to create the Peking Union Medical College and improve China’s public health system. The art they collected across the continent from 1929 formed the basis of the Asia Society museum and the Asia Society in New York, says Alice Mong, the Asia Society’s Executive Director.

It is a tradition that today’s collectors would do well to emulate, both in Asia and around the world, says Roger King, Founder and Director of the Tanoto Center for Asian Family Business and Entrepreneurship Studies at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. ‘The word stewardship is very important,’ King says. ‘You are really a steward of art. You don’t really own [a work forever], you own it for a period of time.’